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February 4, 2014

Is there a faith-based perspective on modern marijuana laws and reforms?

God potThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting article from the Washington Post headlined "Faith leaders wrestle over growing support for marijuana." Here are excerpts:

Sunday’s Super Bowl was dubbed by some as the “pot bowl,” as the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks hail from the two states where fans can soon get marijuana as easily as they can get pizza. As public opinion has shifted in support of legalized marijuana, religious leaders are wrestling over competing interests, including high prison rates and legislating morality.

According to a 2013 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 58 percent of white mainline Protestants and 54 percent of black Protestants favor legalizing the use of marijuana. On the other side, nearly seven-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose it.

Catholics appear to be the most divided Christian group, with 48 percent favoring legalization and 50 percent opposing it. Opinions on how states should handle those who possess or sell marijuana varies among Christian leaders.

Caught in the middle of the debate are pastors, theologians and other religious leaders, torn over how to uphold traditional understandings of sin and morality amid a rapidly changing tide of public opinion.

Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for several prominent evangelicals including Franklin Graham and Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, admits he takes a view that might not be held by most Christian leaders. “When 50 percent of our prison beds are occupied by nonviolent offenders, we have prison overcrowding problems and violent offenders serving shortened sentences, I have a problem with incarceration for possession of marijuana,” he said. “None of that’s to say I favor free and rampant marijuana use. I don’t think it’s the most serious blight on America.”

Alcohol abuse, he said, is a much more serious issue. President Obama suggested something similar to The New Yorker recently when he said that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol.

But don’t expect pastors to start preaching in line with DeMoss, who said he has not seen much comment from religious leaders on the issue. “If a pastor said some of what I said, there would be some who would feel the pastor was compromising on a moral issue,” he said. “No one wants to risk looking like they’re in favor of marijuana. I’m not in favor, but I think we should address how high of a priority it should be.”...

Laws on marijuana have disproportionately impacted minorities, said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “There are community programs that can better engage young people than incarceration,” he said. “Many black and brown lives are destroyed because of incarceration.”...

Most Christians are still reluctant to favor legalization, Rodriguez said, since the effects of marijuana aren’t much different from getting drunk, which is a biblical no-no. “It has the ability of diluting reason, behavior, putting your guard down,” he said. “We are temples of God’s Holy Spirit, and it has the ability of hindering a clear thought process.”

Some who favor legalized marijuana liken the Christians who oppose it to be like the early 20th-century evangelicals and fundamentalists who supported a federal prohibition on alcohol. Part of a move in the Republican Party toward a loosening on marijuana legislation could be coming from people who also would sympathize with the Tea Party, said Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“I definitely think there’s been a coalition of ‘leave us alone’ libertarians and Woodstock nation progressives on this issue of marijuana,” Moore said. “I do think there has been an effort to stigmatize those with concerns as Carrie Nations holding on to prohibition.”

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

February 4, 2014 at 10:22 AM | Permalink

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"Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for several prominent evangelicals including Franklin Graham and Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, admits he takes a view that might not be held by most Christian leaders. “When 50 percent of our prison beds are occupied by nonviolent offenders, we have prison overcrowding problems and violent offenders serving shortened sentences, I have a problem with incarceration for possession of marijuana,” he said. 'None of that’s to say I favor free and rampant marijuana use. I don’t think it’s the most serious blight on America.'"

Strawman alert: Is there anyone who thinks it's the most serious blight on America?

But I digress. Note how cleverly deceptive that paragraph is. Without saying so in haec verba, it's designed to get the reader to think that 50% of prison beds are filled with pot smokers.

That is flat out false. Almost no one gets a "prison bed" for smoking pot.

This is one other reason that, while government shouldn't display hostility toward religion, it shouldn't take its cue from "religious leaders," either.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 10:39:18 AM

Why do drug warriors quibble with the fact that a huge percentage of the prison population in this country is comprised of non-violent drug offenders? Do they have to lie to themselves in order to persist in maintaining their immoral position?

Posted by: Will Swanson | Feb 4, 2014 10:57:41 AM

Will Swanson --

Why do drug pushers quibble with the fact that they facilitate thousands of deaths every year because they want to make an easy buck instead of getting a normal job?

Child pornography is also (for by far the most part) non-violent.

Do you really think that we're fooled into believing that "non-violent" is the same thing as "non-harmful"?

P.S. I see you don't deny either that the paragraph I noted is deceptive, or that virtually no one gets a prison sentence just for smoking pot.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 11:17:12 AM

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’"

There are various faith based sentiments on the treatment of drug offenders, but some will be on the side of various "reforms" as compared to current "laws."

Posted by: Joe | Feb 4, 2014 11:38:00 AM

Will Swanson --

Sorry, I neglected one important point.

You said: "Why do drug warriors quibble with the fact that a huge percentage of the prison population in this country is comprised of non-violent drug offenders? Do they have to lie to themselves in order to persist in maintaining their immoral position?"

I did a fact check. I did it on a distinctly pro-druggie website, DrugWarFacts.org (http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Prisons_and_Drugs#sthash.tfBQu2xv.dpbs)

The very first entry there is as follows:

(Drug Offenders in US Prisons 2012)

Federal: On Dec. 31, 2012, there were 196,574 sentenced prisoners under federal jurisdiction. Of these, 99,426 were serving time for drug offenses, 11,688 for violent offenses, 11,568 for property offenses, and 72,519 for "public order" offenses (of which 23,700 were sentenced for immigration offenses, 30,046 for weapons offenses, and 17,633 for "other").

State: On Dec. 31, 2011, there were 1,341,797 sentenced prisoners under state jurisdiction. Of these, 222,738 were serving time for drug offenses, of whom 55,013 were merely convicted for possession. There were also 717,861 serving time for violent offenses, 249,574 for property offenses, 142,230 for "public order" offenses (which include weapons, drunk driving, court offenses, commercialized vice, morals and decency offenses, liquor law violations, and other public-order offenses), and 9,392 for "other/unspecified". ###

Can you do the math? No problem, I'll do it for you.

According to this site, there was a total of roughly 1,540,000 prisoners in the U.S., and about 325,000 of them were there for drug offenses.

In other words, 21 percent of the prison population in this country is in for drug offenses.

Question: What would happen if I said that "a huge percentage of the population favors the death penalty," and it turned out that the percentage was 21%?

Answer: I'd be laughed off the board as, not merely a liar, but a transparently obvious liar.

Which makes you..............what?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 11:53:48 AM

Bill Otis, we grant you that no-one is in prison for smoking pot. But thousands upon thousands are in prison f for manufacturing pot, for possessing large quantities of pot, for transporting pot, for delivering pot, and for selling pot? Does this make sense? Not to my way of thinking. We're spending enormous sums of money to feed the prison-prosecutorial complex and the drug cartels, and ruining the lives of the convicted and their families.

Posted by: obective observer | Feb 4, 2014 11:59:39 AM

Statistics from several years back demonstrate the following:

More than 55% of federal prison inmates are doing time for drug offenses.

More than 72% of federal prison inmates are locked up for non-violent offenses.

http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/inc_federalprisonpop.pdf

----------

The single largest driver in the increase in the federal prison population since 1998 is longer sentences for drug offenders.

The most serious charge against 20 percent of state-prison inmates is a drug offense. That's much lower than the 51 percent in federal prisons, though it's still larger than any other single category of offense in state prisons.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/13/wonkbook-11-facts-about-americas-prison-population/

----------

Bill Otis: Your perspective is skewed and distorted by your immoral perspective. As a drug warrior, you have devastated families and destroyed lives. Fortunately, the number who share your perspective is dwindling. The sooner you all go away, the better. In the meanwhile, won't you at the least have the decency to accept simple facts?

Posted by: Will Swanson | Feb 4, 2014 12:38:56 PM

Will Swanson --

That's a very earnest effort, but a distinctly unsuccessful one, to cover over your original assertion.

This is what you said: "[A] huge percentage of the prison population in this country is comprised of non-violent drug offenders."

Unless 21 percent is "a huge percentage," you're a liar.

Which is it?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 1:46:14 PM

"no-one is in prison for smoking pot"

No one? I take this means for any significant amount of time, which is probably an exaggeration -- there are cases where personal usage led to prison time, though it is not the typical case.

Many are or were in the system for for possessing small amounts, including "in public" (particularly creatively applied in NYC), not just for possession of large amounts or for sale. Mere usage can also result in loss of benefits. A Supreme Court case also concerned the ability to lose government housing even if you allow usage in an area under your control.

The same doesn't apply, e.g., for possession of a pack of cigarettes.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 4, 2014 2:20:19 PM

Will Swanson is a good example of the way the legalization campaign gets conducted.

First, he says point-blank, that "a huge percentage of the prison population in this country is comprised of non-violent drug offenders."

I go check this on a legalization-friendly website.

The true figure turns out to be 21 percent. No one thinks that 21 percent is a "huge percentage."

I point this to out to Mr. Swanson, hoping that he might take a step back and say something like, "OK, you're right, I was not telling the truth when I said it was a huge percentage. But it's still a significant percentage." He could then make his argument from there, and it would be basically the same argument.

Is that what he does?

Not one little bit.

Instead, his response is this: "Bill Otis: Your perspective is skewed and distorted by your immoral perspective. As a drug warrior, you have devastated families and destroyed lives. Fortunately, the number who share your perspective is dwindling. The sooner you all go away, the better. In the meanwhile, won't you at the least have the decency to accept simple facts?"

Yikes. It's just arithmetic. It has nothing to do with "perspective." Not content with this absurd evasion, however, he goes on to wish, in only slightly veiled language, that I'd drop dead, but that, "in the meantime," I should at "least have the decency to accept simple facts."

Who's refusing to accept simple facts (21%)?

Whose version of decency includes assuming that the millions with an opposing viewpoint are immoral?

Who, when caught peddling an untruth, refuses ANY ACKNOWLEDGEMENT WHATEVER of error, and instead launches a tirade?

Last question: Anyone wonder anymore why I despair of having a civil, much less a productive, conversation with someone like this?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 2:25:46 PM

Fair enough, Bill, but you would admit that a huge percentage of the FEDERAL prison population in this country is comprised of non-violent drug offenders?

Posted by: Anon | Feb 4, 2014 2:38:21 PM

"Millions" believe things that are immoral. For instance, until the Supreme Court struck it down, Texas and a few other states supported criminalization of same sex sodomy. This is reasonably deemed immoral. I don't find that sentiment "indecent." As to the word "huge," dictionary.com notes:

"extraordinarily large in bulk, quantity, or extent: a huge ship; a huge portion of ice cream."

A "huge" portion of ice cream can very well be 1/5 (20%) of the box -- let's say a gallon of ice cream. "Huge" doesn't mean "a majority" or even a "plurality" necessarily.

Putting aside the possible 'liar' cited 21% in a follow-up comment. Oh well. Bill Otis' despair at the other side is well known & we all respect his continual efforts to fight the good fight against "liars" et. al.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 4, 2014 2:48:06 PM

Anon --

Nice pivot away from Mr. Swanson's belligerent lying.

Sure I'd admit it. Indeed, the figures I put up establish it.

But so what? Federal criminal jurisdiction is massively different from that of the states. I would similarly "admit" that almost no percentage of the federal prison population is in for murder, rape, robbery, extortion, theft, assault and battery and most of the stuff people think of when they think of crime.

All that shows is that the federal government's criminal jurisdiction is its own kettle of fish. One could just as easily say that a very significant of the federal prison population is in for fraud, firearms and immigration offenses.

One more thing: Federal "non-violent drug offenses" covers a whole lot of ground, not just pot. There are the other drugs like meth, heroin, PCP, Ecstasy and a few other juicy ones the drug legalization folks are not so eager to talk about. And, as I have noted before, non-violent does not mean non-harmful. Drugs do massive amounts of harm quite apart from their association with violence.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 2:53:59 PM

Well, Bill, I think its an important point for those concerned about the priorities of federal law enforcement. For those who don't think non-violent drug offenders should be our number one national criminal concern, or a concern at all, or who think its a concern that should be dealt with through means other than incarceration, the figure is alarming.

As for your other point, I totally agree that calling drug crimes "non-violent" undersells the terrible harm that drugs do to addicts and abusers (and to the friends and family of addicts and abusers). Still, I think there's an important difference between the harm that someone inflicts by selling drugs to an addict, and the harm that someone inflicts through direct physical violence. There are good reasons to distinguish between those two types of violence when making law enforcement and sentencing decisions.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 4, 2014 3:05:32 PM

Joe --

Do legalizers have the right to lie about the facts on the ground?

Yes or no.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 3:15:33 PM

Bill Otis, a mistake is not a lie.

Posted by: obective observer | Feb 4, 2014 4:03:01 PM

"Do legalizers have the right to lie about the facts on the ground?"

Actual lying by any side in a debate is bad and should be called out though I guess there is some "right" to lie to some extent (see, e.g., stolen valor case).

OTOH, for the reason given, "huge" as applied in no way clearly a 'lie.'

Posted by: Joe | Feb 4, 2014 4:11:04 PM

obective observer --

If it were a mistake, he would have said, "Oh, sorry, I was looking at the wrong numbers. My mistake."

This is what he actually said: "Bill Otis: Your perspective is skewed and distorted by your immoral perspective. As a drug warrior, you have devastated families and destroyed lives. Fortunately, the number who share your perspective is dwindling. The sooner you all go away, the better. In the meanwhile, won't you at the least have the decency to accept simple facts?"

Is that what a person says when he just makes a mistake? Or is it what he says when he's caught lying, is furious about it, and wants to avoid admitting what he's done by attacking the person who pointed it out?

You tell me.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 4:16:56 PM

Anon --

"For those who don't think non-violent drug offenders should be our number one national criminal concern, or a concern at all, or who think its a concern that should be dealt with through means other than incarceration, the figure is alarming."

Those are three very different things, and how alarming the figure is depends on which one we're discussing.

I would also note that, in my view, the whole argument has a bogus feel to it. It's almost universally known that federal drug punishments are severe. It is therefore one thing to argue the reason that the law ought to be changed, but another entirely to argue that those already imprisoned have only the law to blame.

Not so. They have themselves to blame. They knew what the stakes were but decided they could probably get away with it.

If you don't want to lose your bet, don't gamble.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 4:25:48 PM

Joe --

"[H]uge" as applied [is] in no way clearly a 'lie.'"

When a person is talking about percentages, as Will Swanson was; and he says that "a huge percentage of the prison population in this country is comprised of non-violent drug offenders;" and the percentage is NOT EVEN A QUARTER, much less "huge;" and he belligerently refuses to acknowledge any error whatever; and instead goes on offense even more furiously than before -- when all that happens, sorry, it is clearly a lie.

If you really think there's a question about that -- which I doubt -- then you think that language has no meaning.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 4:37:47 PM

Has Bill Otis got his knickers in a twist in yet another thread?

Posted by: Jack Straw | Feb 4, 2014 6:50:51 PM

Jack Straw --

Nice moniker.

"Has Bill Otis got his knickers in a twist in yet another thread?"

I guess "knickers in a twist" is the druggie phrase for "responds to commenters' questions about his position."

Tell ya what, Jack. I'm going to continue to respond, and when I do, I won't have to lie about it like your druggie buddy Will Swanson.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 4, 2014 7:06:48 PM

For some reason the people getting Billions of dollars to fight the war on drugs think it would be a bad idea to legalize it.

Posted by: Legalize NC | Feb 4, 2014 7:45:48 PM

|/ “your immoral perspective. As a drug warrior [Bill Otis], you have devastated families and destroyed lives” \|
-- Will Swanson

Wow, I am not much of an immoral “drug warrior”, but in OEF I did participate in a dangerous effort which allayed the production of poppies, the precursor of heroin.

When police were called to [father of 3, Phillip Seymour] Hoffman's
fourth-floor Manhattan apartment Sunday, they found the actor lying
on the bathroom floor with a syringe in his left arm
.”

How many similarly ‘devastated families and destroyed lives’ result from heroin use? Why would one discourage us from fighting against it: mightn’t that be “immoral”?

| Source: 4 arrested in connection with drugs in Hoffman's apartment |
By Shimon Prokupecz, Faith Karimi and Nischelle Turner, CNN |Wed February 5, 2014|

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 5, 2014 10:26:49 AM

People are "devastated" by alcoholism including deaths arising from it -- not sure how criminalization will prevent that sort of thing.

Philip Seymour Hoffman could have abused various legal drugs and died from abusing them. Criminalization also worsens the situation by making the drugs more dangerous, furthers usage of dirty needles, inhibits obtaining help in various cases since it would open you up to legal consequences etc.

So, citing Hoffman's death to support current criminal policies is of unclear value. The issue is not "fighting against" certain drug use here. The issue is the current legal policies in place.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 5, 2014 11:17:29 AM

ETA: Opposing current criminal policies as to heroin or meth or whatever comes in various forms, including supporting criminalization of sale and so forth. It also is quite possible to support de-criminalization of marijuana and not heroin. The value to victims of heroin abuse of long jail sentences to a select number of people while violence and other negative factors arise is unclear. Actors like Hoffman, particularly, now and in the past will have the means to obtain such drugs. So, again, citing Hoffman to answer the "moral" claim is dubious.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 5, 2014 11:23:09 AM

Adamakis --

I appreciate your contribution, as ever, but it's impossible to have a rational discussion with people who not only lie, but claim the RIGHT to lie.

Will Swanson point-blank lied in a key part of his argument, but not one person on the pro-drug side even gently admonishes him for it. Instead, they dismiss it, excuse it, or simply walk past it.

As I say, it's not possible to have a rational discussion with people who lie or indulge lying. That kind of discussion simply cannot go anywhere.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 5, 2014 12:04:58 PM

| “Criminalization also worsens the situation by making the drugs more dangerous” |

Marijuana: fully criminalised by 1937 !!!
“levels of THC,
3.75% in 1995 to an average of
15% in current marijuana cigarettes [in 2013]”
“exposure to such doses has been linked to changes in the brain and memory loss”

Heroin: fully criminalised by 1922-1924 !!!
5% pure...in the 1970s”
50% pure and sometimes as much as 80% [in 2010]”
“Between 1999 and 2009, 32 states saw an increase in heroin-related patients, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Joe, criminalisation is an essential determinant, Huh?

[True, B. Otis, but hopefully onward I trod, to convince one mind…]

 http://www.nih.gov/news/health/dec2013/nida-18.htm
 http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/02/us/heroin-use-rising/
 http://www.reporternews.com/news/2010/may/25/stronger-heroin-killing-more/

Posted by: Adamakis | Feb 5, 2014 3:01:00 PM

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